NBA: Thunder edge Pelicans in thriller, Celtics, Bucks and Clippers win playoff openers

AFP , Monday 22 Apr 2024

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drained a go-ahead basket with 32.5 seconds left on Sunday as Western Conference top seeds Oklahoma City clawed out a 94-92 victory over New Orleans in their NBA playoff opener.

Miami Heat
Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic (5) shoots at the basket as Boston Celtics guards Jaylen Brown (7) and Derrick White, right, defend in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series. AFP


Hours after he was named a finalist for NBA Most valuable Player along with Denver star Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points to lead the Thunder.

The Pelicans were missing star Zion Williamson because of a hamstring strain but they refused to buckle at Oklahoma's Paycom Center.

A pulsating contest featured 20 lead changes and was a marked contrast to the wins posted earlier by the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, who all roared out of the gates on the way to dominant victories.

The Celtics, fueled by Jayson Tatum's first career playoff triple-double, parlayed a 14-0 start to a 114-94 victory over the Miami Heat.

The Clippers shrugged off the absence of Kawhi Leonard, bullying the Mavs early on the way to a 109-97 victory over the Mavericks -- who put up just eight points in the second quarter.

In Milwaukee, Damian Lillard scored all 35 of his points in the first half as the Bucks built a 69-42 halftime lead and held on to beat the Indiana Pacers 109-94 despite the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The first half in Oklahoma City saw a dozen lead changes and ended deadlocked at 43-43.

An 11-0 scoring run gave the Thunder a nine-point lead midway through the third period, but the Pelicans countered every punch they threw and were up by two after Brandon Ingram's layup with 3:34 left to play.

Gilgeous-Alexander tied it with 1:36 remaining and was fouled on his go-ahead basket, making the free-throw for a 93-90 Thunder lead.

Trey Murphy III scored 21 points to lead the Pelicans and CJ McCollum added 20 but missed a three-point attempt in the waning seconds.

"We didn't execute down the stretch the way we wanted to. We let them believe, but we did enough to get the 'W,'" the 25-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander said.

"One game closer to our goal."

Jalen Williams scored 19 points and Chet Holmgren had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Thunder, who host game two of the best-of-seven series on Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, James Harden scored 28 points and handed out eight assists for the Clippers, drilling six of their 18 three-pointers.

Paul George added 22 points and Ivica Zubac scored 20 points with 15 rebounds for Los Angeles, who seized control early as Dallas and NBA regular-season scoring leader Doncic struggled.

The Mavs connected on just two of 21 attempts in the second quarter and trailed by 26 at the break.

Eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving made all eight of his attempts on the way to 20 points in the third quarter as the Mavericks came alive.

Doncic would finish with 33 points and 13 rebounds and Irving scored 31, but they were in too deep of a hole to escape.

"In the second half, that is how we should play the whole game," Doncic said.

Bucks limit Pacers

Mavs coach Jason Kidd said his players were too passive in the face of the Clippers' early physicality -- Harden said that was just the effect the Clippers were going for.

"We can't ease into games," Harden said. "We've got to be the physicality team from the beginning, and we did that."

In Milwaukee, the Bucks were more than up to the task without Antetokounmpo, who remained sidelined with a left calf injury.

Lillard's explosive first half included a 19-point first quarter, and his 35 points were a record for any Bucks player in any half of a playoff game.

He didn't make a basket in the second half, but his teammates picked up the slack and the prolific Pacers offense was held under 100 points for just the second time this season.

Tyrese Haliburton, chosen ahead of Lillard for the US Paris Olympic squad, finished with just nine points for the Pacers, who were led by Pascal Siakam's 36 points and 13 rebounds.

In Boston, Tatum scored 23 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists to fuel the Celtics, who were ousted in the Eastern Conference finals by the eighth-seeded Heat last season.

Tatum was one of six Celtics to score in double figures and Boston made 22 three-pointers to keep the Heat on their heels.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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